The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

March 31, 2014

Neosho mayor discusses charter vote, city audit

NEOSHO, Mo. — Neosho Mayor Richard Davidson on Monday night discussed with residents details of the ethics language proposed for the city charter to be decided next week by voters.

In the quarterly town hall-style meeting at the city golf course clubhouse, Davidson also went over the annual city audit released two weeks ago.

Davidson said that if voters place the ethics language from the city code in the city charter, it would protect it from repeal by future city councils. Another election would be required for repealing the language from the charter. A simple majority vote on April 8 is required for approval.

“There was an attempt in late 2013 to repeal the ethics code,” Davidson said. “We were one vote away from that happening last fall.”

He referred to an unsuccessful bid in August 2013 by Councilmen David Ruth and Steve Hart to repeal the ethics code.

The charter change would prohibit council members from improper use of public property, conflicts of interest, influencing the city’s business relationships with a business with which a council member has an interest or is employed, appearing in a proceeding adverse to the city unless under subpoena, disclosing or using confidential city information, and participating in discussions in which a council member has a financial or personal interest.

The charter language would create an ethics board to conduct investigations and advise the council of appropriate penalties. Penalties may include a fine, a reprimand or removal from office.

Davidson said the measure isn’t meant to punish anyone, but to make council members aware of what conduct is expected of them.

He said no state law currently prohibits public officials from disclosing confidential information. He said state law, including the Missouri Open Meetings, Open Records Law, would supersede the city charter.

“It doesn’t violate the Sunshine Law,” Davidson said, responding to one complaint of the issue he said he has heard.

Hart has said the effort to repeal the ethics code was because he and Ruth thought it was contrary to the Sunshine Law. He wasn’t at Monday’s town hall meeting.

“That was adopted to hush one council member up,” Hart said previously. “That’s what we’re against, not ethics.”

Regarding the annual city audit, Davidson said the “clean” audit was the result of years of planning and work by many people since the city’s financial collapse in 2008 and 2009.

“We have come a long way from where we were in 2010,” Davidson said.

He referred to a line from page 13 of the audit document: “The city continues to take strong measures to ensure the city stays in a position of financial stability.”

He said 79 percent of the city’s revenue comes from taxes, and the other 21 percent is from fees for services. The city’s top expenses are the Fire Department, the Police Department and streets.

Davidson said the results of the audit validate the city’s recovery plan.

Resident’s take

RESIDENT GENE FRANKLIN said he is glad the charter provision will be on the ballot next week. “It’s pretty obvious the previous council wasn’t acting ethically,” Franklin said.

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